Mental health services (CAMHS)
Information for families in England and Wales
CAMHS stands for child and adolescent mental health services. CAMHS offer assessment and treatment for families where children and young people have emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.
CAMHS are usually NHS services. They are sometimes called 'specialist CAMHS', because there are also other services that can help children and young people with their mental health, such as youth counselling and school counselling.
Why do children and young people get referred to CAMHS?
Children, young people and their families can be offered support by CAMHS if they are experiencing difficulties with their behaviour or emotions or they are finding it hard to cope with life in the family, at school or in the wider world.
The types of problems CAMHS can help with include:
- Violent or angry behaviour
- Eating difficulties
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship problems
- Anxiety and phobias
- Obsessions and compulsions
- Sleep difficulties
- The effects of abuse or traumatic events
CAMHS can also diagnose and treat serious mental health problems such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anorexia nervosa
CAMHS may also diagnose and offer support with conditions such as Autism and ADHD, but this differs from area to area, so ask your GP for advice about this.
How can we get a referral to CAMHS?
There are different ways to get a referral to CAMHS, but the most common way is via your child's GP. You can discuss your worries about your child and if the child is old enough and feels able to do so, they can see the GP themselves. The GP may be able to offer advice or if they think specialist help is needed, they will write a letter to CAMHS asking them to make an appointment for your child.
Other professionals who may be able to make a referral to CAMHS include:
- Teachers or other school staff
- Health visitors
- School nurses
- Social workers
- Youth counselling services
CAMHS are expected to work with children and young people up to the age of 18. However, some services stop working with young people at age 16, or will only work with a person aged 16-18 if they are in full-time education.
If your child is over the age at which their local CAMHS stops seeing young people, they may need to be referred to the adult mental health team, or to other support services for older young people. Different areas have different ways of organising their services, so it is best to ask your GP about this.
What should I do if my child is on the waiting list for CAMHS?
Waiting lists for CAMHS vary, and it is worth asking your GP what the waiting time is like in your area, or contacting the CAMHS administrator directly. In the meantime it can help to talk to your child and their teachers, GP or other people who support them about how to help them while waiting for the CAMHS process to start.
If you feel the waiting time is particularly long, you should consider contacting your NHS Trusts' Patients Advisory Liaison Service (PALS). You can find details in the phone book or through a Citizens Advice Bureau. You can make a formal complaint if you feel you are not being offered help within a reasonable time. You can also try contacting your local MP.
What rights do my child and I have if we are being supported by CAMHS?
The CAMHS staff must make sure both your child and you agree to accept the support they are offering and explain what other options there are if you do not agree with their suggestions.
The CAMHS staff must explain to you how and with whom they might share any information given by you or your child. Your child has the right to mention things in their sessions which are confidential from you, and equally you have the right to say things that are kept confidential from your child. However if anyone at CAMHS is given information that someone is being harmed or is at risk of harm, they have a duty to break confidentiality.
All CAMHS services have complaints procedures, and these should be explained to you. If you or your child are unhappy with anything about the support offered, you have the right to talk to the CAMHS staff about it and ask them what can be done to improve things.
Access to records
Your child has the right to see their case records in most cases. They can ask their CAMHS worker informally or might have to ask officially using formal procedures CAMHS will explain.
Support for particular needs
If you or your child need particular support, for example an interpreter or for someone to come with you to meetings, you should make this clear to the CAMHS staff so they can help with this.
Where can I find out more?
YoungMinds is the UK's leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people
You can contact Young Minds Parents' Helpline, which has a team of qualified child and adolescent mental health specialists, who can give you advice about managing your child's difficulties before you've received CAMHS. YoungMinds also has booklets and leaflets for young people and parents that can help.
Information for families in Northern Ireland and Scotland
We also support Northern Ireland and Scotland. Give our helpline a call on 0808 808 3555 for information and advice on any aspect of raising a disabled child, or call your local contact. Find out our details in the Contact in your area section.